McKee v. United States
Annotate this Case
75 U.S. 163 (1868)
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U.S. Supreme Court
McKee v. United States, 75 U.S. 8 Wall. 163 163 (1868)
McKee v. United States
75 U.S. (8 Wall.) 163
1. The military authorities bad no power under the Act of July 13, 1861, to license commercial intercourse between the seceding states and the rest of the United States. The Ouachita Cotton Case, 6 Wall. 521, affirmed.
2. Such trade was not authorized in March, 1864, by regulations prescribed by the Secretary of the Treasury in pursuance of the said act, but, on the contrary, was at that time forbidden by the then existing regulations of the Treasury.
3. Even supposing such trade to have been licensed in March, 1864, in pursuance of the Act of July 13, 1861, the license would not have authorized a purchase by a citizen of the United States from any person then holding an office or agency under the government of the so-called Confederate States, all sales, transfers, or conveyances by such persons being made void by the Act of July 17, 1862.
Congress, by Act of July 13, 1861, [Footnote 1] passed soon after the outbreak of the late insurrection against the United States, enacted that it might be lawful for the President, by proclamation, to declare that the inhabitants of any state or part of a state where such insurrection was existing were
in a state of such insurrection, and that
"thereupon all commercial intercourse by and between the same and citizens thereof and citizens of the rest of the United States should cease, and be unlawful so long as such condition of hostility should continue."
The same act contained a proviso that the President might license and permit commercial intercourse with any such part of the section so declared in a state of insurrection as he in his discretion might think most conducive to the public interest, and that such intercourse, so far as by him licensed, should be carried on in pursuance of rules and regulations prescribed by the Secretary of the Treasury.
In March, 1864, a date to be noted in the present case, the only regulations prescribed by the secretary on the subject forbade the trade, these prescribing that "commercial intercourse with localities beyond the lines of military occupation by the United States forces is strictly prohibited."
By section 5 of the subsequent Act of July 17, 1862, [Footnote 2] it was enacted:
"That to insure the speedy termination of the present rebellion, it shall be the duty of the President of the United States to cause the seizure of all the estate and property, money, stocks, credits, and effects of the persons hereinafter named in this section, and to apply and use the same and the proceeds thereof for the support of the army of the United States."
The enumeration of persons includes any person hereafter holding an office or agency under the government of the so-called Confederate States of America. And the section thus concludes:
"And all sales, transfers, or conveyances of any such property shall be null and void, and it shall be a sufficient bar to any suit brought by such person for the possession or use of such property or any of it to allege and prove that he is one of the persons described in this section. "
In this state of the statutes and Treasury regulations, one A. W. McKee, a resident of the then rebel portion of Louisiana, and from October till the autumn of 1864 the general agent of the Treasury Department to purchase and dispose of cotton in the State of Texas and that part of Louisiana lying west of the Mississippi River, regions then in insurrection against the United States and within the military lines of the Confederacy, was the owner of certain cotton, the subject of the present appeal, and had it in a storehouse there on the bank of the Red River.
While thus stored within the Confederate lines, it was purchased of him there, and paid for on the 4th of March, 1864, by John H. McKee, a loyal citizen of the United States, resident at New Orleans, then in possession and under control of the government; this McKee, the purchaser, being no relative of his by blood, though an adopted son of an uncle. There was some evidence, not satisfactory, however, tending to show that the purchaser, McKee, had a license to trade in insurgent territory, issued by agents of the Treasury in proposed conformity with the requirements of the Act of July 13, 1861. But however this might have been, it seemed to be conceded that he had permission from the military commander of the forces of the United States in that department to pass through the federal lines into the rebellious region and bring away any property that he might purchase there; and there was even evidence tending to show that these authorities had actually granted him a license to trade.
The cotton had not yet been removed by J. H. McKee from the storehouse in which it was at the time of the purchase when, in twelve days after the purchase, the region being now overrun by the federal army, it was seized by a flotilla of the United States and, in the face of protest by the purchaser, brought to Cairo and condemned.
The propriety of this condemnation was now the question on appeal.